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February 20, 2013

Purdue Diamond Notes

With the offseason roster turnover Purdue experienced following its conference titles last season, there was bound to be some turbulence early this spring.

But 15th-year coach Doug Schreiber isn't looking to make excuses.

"We have lots of room to grow," said Schreiber after Purdue went 2-2 in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge to open the season. "I was a little disappointed with the results over the weekend. We won two, but we could have lost all four. … We were fortunate to win two, but the expectation was to go down there to win at least three.

"I just didn't think we competed well. You can't compete if you're nervous and if we've got nervous guys, they've got to figure it out. There's a lot of room to grow, physically and mentally."

Purdue twice beat Connecticut over the weekend, getting a 10-7 win in Game 1 and a 5-3 victory in Game 4. But in between, the Boilers were throttled by South Florida, 20-2, and lost 9-4 to No. 4 Louisville after the game was tied headed to the eighth.

"I would say I feel fortunate," Schreiber said. "We didn't play well, I don't think, overall and we weren't as competitive as I would have liked us to be right out of the gate. You can say all the disclaimers that you want, with us having a younger team and everything, but we still should be able to compete a little better."

The Boilers are back in action for four games this weekend at the Diamond Classic in Starkville, Miss., playing two vs. No. 5 Mississippi State and two vs. Samford; each of the three-team field made the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

Ramer strong in first start

Pitcher Robert Ramer has been steady throughout his career, winning most of his starts the last couple years as Purdue's mid-week starter.

But his responsibilities might very well be elevated this season, particularly if his first start is any indication. The fifth-year senior right-hander pitched his first complete game Sunday, helping Purdue to a 5-3 win over Connecticut.

Ramer says he went into this season full of confidence.

"I was really excited that I got the opportunity to start the Big Ten Tournament championship game, then the NCAA regional game vs. Kentucky," he said of last spring. "I took that as wanting to come back here this season and continue that (kind of role). … I just wanted to keep doing what I do, get ground balls and keep my pitch count to a minimum and keep my team in the game."

He did that Sunday. After giving up three runs in the first three innings, Ramer settled in. He scattered 13 hits, but didn't give up a run after the third. His effort allowed an over-taxed bullpen a chance to rest on the final game of the weekend.

"He gave up four line-drive hits the first four batters," Schreiber said of UConn's two-run first, "so I thought it was going to be a short day for him, as well. But he actually got stronger. I think our defense started playing better behind him, and playing hitters better.

"I give him credit because he persevered through that first inning. He did have a lead, so it gave him a little bit of a longer leash, but he kept getting stronger."

Ramer doesn't have overpowering stuff, with a fastball that hits only the low- to upper-80s on the radar gun. But he controls it masterfully, keeps the ball low and mixes in his off-speed pitches effectively. In the past, that's allowed him to keep hitters off balance the first couple times through the order, before they tended to figure him out in the later innings.

But not on Sunday.

"I think throughout the game I made the adjustments I needed to," said Ramer, who improved his career record to 14-1. "I was hitting my locations really well and keeping the ball down. ... And my defense was good, with three double plays."

Schreiber 'not bad' in comeback

Brad Schreiber was understandably rusty in his first start back from Tommy John elbow surgery.

The No. 1 pitcher, who hadn't thrown in a game since 2011, walked three and hit three more in four innings of work Friday, a 10-7 win over the Huskies, but allowed only two hits and two runs, just one of them earned.

He came out after hitting his 85-pitch limit.

"It's definitely different throwing live in the game," Schreiber said before practice Tuesday. "But my arm is coming back just how I expect it to, a little bit sore, a little bit stiff. But I throw a bullpen (Tuesday) and I expect that to be great. I'll be ready to go Friday."

Schreiber struggled with his command, giving up six free bases, but otherwise he felt like he had a good outing.

"I was definitely struggling to make some adjustments," he said. "The mound was definitely different than what was indoors. The nerves of the first game, the excitement, but you never want to give that many free bases up. But I feel like by the end, I was starting to do my best pitching, but then I hit my pitch count."

Doug Schreiber thought Schreiber's outing was OK.

"Not bad," he said. "His command wasn't as good as what it normally is. Not having played and first time competing in 18 months, he probably didn't handle his emotions well. But he faired well considering. He had good juice on the ball. Now, he's just got to corral that in a little bit."

Searching for a 'pen

Purdue used 10 pitchers out of the bullpen over the weekend.

The auditions will likely continue until a few step up as reliable arms. Patrick Kenney and Mike Gaglianese both pitched two scoreless innings, with the former picking up a save in the first win vs. Connecticut.

"We're not really going down to see who can do what," Schreiber said. "I think that will materialize. But I'm expecting everyone we put in to do well, so some guys did better than others and a couple guys defaulted a little bit. But I'm looking for guys to step up."

News and notes

• Punter/LHP Cody Webster will make the trip to Mississippi State after being off the 28-man travel roster for the first weekend trip.

"It's going to give us an opportunity to maybe get him in a game," Schreiber said. "But I think just to continue to work with him on the side, maybe bullpen wise, and see if we can't keep getting him ready. He's far from being tapped out and we want to see how high that ceiling could possibly be."

We'll have more on Webster later.

• Purdue will keep its starting rotation the same for this weekend - Schreiber, Kyle Wood, Jordan Minch and Ramer - although the order might change.

• Fifth-year senior shortstop Jake Hansen started two games over the weekend, in for sophomore Bennett Oliver.

And the veteran, who missed last season with a blood clot issue, was 4-of-10 with a triple and three runs in four games.

"I just thought Hansen gave us the best option on defense," Schreiber said. "And I'm going to try to play our best defense. … I think if our pitching and defense are consistent, it's going to give us our best chance to win.

"And Jake did a nice job offensively for us. I think he was better prepared for the weekend than what Bennett showed, but that's not to say Bennett won't be back in there battling for a chance to be at short or another position."

• Freshman catcher Josh Estill was named the Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Week .467 with an RBI over the weekend.

"Josh did a great job," Schreiber said. "He stepped in and had a little bit of a swagger and had confidence and produced for us."

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